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Safe abortion is only for the rich, others have paid dearly

By Judith Mwobobia | April 19th 2021

In hush whispers, the message would be passed along from student to student. And on a Saturday afternoon, large numbers would troop into the hall, curious about the seemingly top-secret agenda of the meeting. However, the more important reason many would interrupt their weekend raves for a sit-down session in a lecture hall was due to the promise of the Sh500 that would be handed out for attendance.

I would find myself in many of those meetings in my four years at the university. And six out of the eight times, the topic of discussion was where one could get an abortion if you needed one.

Of note is that the service wasn’t free. Business cards would be dished out afterward. We would listen in rapt attention, taking mental note of the important details in case the information would ever come in handy at any point in our young lives.

The other time I would be keenly aware of the subject of abortion was when one went horribly wrong. One young woman would enlist the help of a medical student to terminate a pregnancy. The procedure went wrong and uncontrollable bleeding would lead to a long and painful hospitalisation. Thankfully, she would end up fine; psychologically scarred, but physically sound albeit a cloud on her ability to conceive in the future.

It is an open secret where one can procure an abortion in Kenya. Even a simple Google search will yield some options. And a few discreet enquiries reveal that getting a professional to do it could cost you not less than Sh15,000. That is a cost many women in Kenya can’t meet.

In rural areas, this can be doubly expensive. And so, desperate women will do what they have to do. They will procure backstreet abortions, or attempt to do it themselves. Interestingly, our law dictates that abortion is illegal and can only be done when the medical doctor deems it necessary for the health of the patient. As the law states that, it seemingly ignores mental health.

For a woman to get to a point she wants to terminate a pregnancy, best believe her mental health is at risk should that option be taken away from her. And chances are, she will go ahead and get one, but pay dearly with her life.

In a country where sexual violence is a reality and a worrying concern, it is astounding how the society picks and chooses which issues to take a moral stand on. We can continue singing about how abortion should remain illegal and is immoral, but the truth is that this happens; sometimes safely, other times, most times, with unhappy endings. In 2010 it was estimated that atleast 2,600 women died from unsafe abortion in a year, and that 21,000 more were hospitalised from complications.

These numbers are of those who made it to the hospital. Now imagine how many more, the numbers have become a decade later! Ask any doctor who works at Kenyatta National Hospital and they will tell you about the number of young women who walk into the hospital suffering complications of botched abortions. Most of these women, the lucky ones who survive, walk away with scars that will never heal from the crudely done attempts.

Safe and legal abortion is a woman’s human right. A woman should have the choice to decide what is good or bad for her body. She should have the option of making the decision, walking into a public hospital, and getting the service she needs from qualified health professionals. That is what the fight for human freedoms has always been about anyway. Denying women safe abortions belongs in the same category as forced marriages and female genital mutilation. It never ends well.

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